‘He Ruined That Man’: Colorado’s Catholic Church Reparations Exclude Victims Of Religious Order Abuse

Listen Now
6min 53sec
Courtesy Jacque Schippers
Jacque and Terry Schippers with their daughter in a photo from the family scrapbook.

Pat Wilcox’s younger brother arrived at her Greeley home with rain-drenched, moldy clothing and a dilapidated pickup truck. She welcomed him that day in 2015, thinking she could help the man she knew as “Shug.”

But the next few months would bewilder her.

How had her charming, successful brother gotten so lost in middle age? One evening, after she found him drinking again, the siblings sat down to talk.

“I know how you were raised,” she told him. “I know the people you were around, and how you were loved. You are on such a self-destructive path. Something is wrong.”

Then she asked the question that surprised them both: “Were you sexually abused?” 

“As a matter of fact, I was,” Terry Schippers responded. Then he crumpled.

Soon afterward, Schippers joined more than 160 other Coloradans who alleged they were sexually abused by Catholic priests. Yet this reckoning has offered little resolution, legally or emotionally, for Shug Schippers. Three years later, he’s stuck in a strange stalemate with the church and with himself.

Schippers is among countless abuse cases that have fallen through the cracks of Colorado’s efforts at reconciliation.

His alleged abuser, Julian Haas, is still financially supported by his religious order, the Capuchin Province of Mid-America. Haas lives at an order-owned ranch in El Paso County, an arrangement that is meant to keep him and other accused friars under supervision, as their alleged crimes are likely too old to be prosecuted.

The regional Capuchin province is based in Denver, but the group has been excluded from recent efforts to investigate abusive clergy and compensate their victims in Colorado.

Instead, authorities and the church focused on the diocese and archdiocese organizations of Colorado. The state’s recent Special Master’s Report on abuse did not include members of the Capuchins and other Catholic religious orders. And survivors of religious-order abuse, including Schippers, are ineligible for payment from the Catholic reparations fund in Colorado. Schippers also is ineligible because his allegation happened in Kansas, where the church hasn’t offered any reparations.

To date, the Capuchins have only offered free therapy for Schippers, he said. For his ex-wife, Jacque Schippers, that isn’t enough. She believes her husband’s childhood trauma destroyed her family.

“How can that be separate? How can that be different? The crime was committed,” she said. “The act was done. That’s just all legal red-tape bullshit. We’re talking about a man and what’s happened to him when he was young, and what’s happened to me, my children.”

Hank Brown, a former U.S. senator for Colorado who was tapped to help oversee the reparations fund, said he was “hopeful” that state and church authorities would push to include victims of religious orders.

Catholic orders “haven’t really dealt with it nationwide, like the church has started to,” Brown said. Reparations programs in four other states also have largely excluded religious orders.

Beyond financial and legal considerations, Schippers’ story raises questions about justice and closure for abuse survivors who come forward in middle age. Interviews with him and his family members reveal a life unraveled -- and a pattern that is sadly common.

Terry’s Story

Schippers came to our interview at a Greeley public library in what could be described as a retiree’s uniform: tucked-in polo shirt, combed and thinning hair. He spoke slowly, not hesitating, but seeming to labor quietly to pull his story from a dark well within him.

“You know, it wasn't easy,” he said of the decades he kept his allegations secret. “I just, for some reason, just kept it in — and tried to move on with life.”

Schippers was raised in Oakley, Kansas, a neatly gridded city just off Interstate 70, where his family raised livestock, corn and wheat. He got the nickname “Sugar” from his father, but it was truncated by another brother to “Shug.”

Schippers was the family’s golden boy, a natural athlete with fair grades. When eighth grade ended, he decided to attend Thomas More Prep in the city of Hays, some 90 miles away.

The opportunity came through Julian Haas, who grew the school’s enrollment by recruiting students in Colorado, Kansas and neighboring states. “We got to be friends, and that’s kind of why I went to Thomas More Prep,” he said. 

An image from a Thomas More Prep yearbook, as provided by Margaret Allen of The Hays Daily News.

Schippers wouldn’t be alone when he started school in Hays in 1977. His older sister Pat was already living in the northwestern Kansas town with her husband and two young children.

“I loved it, you know, getting to have my little brother come and take care of him,” she said. “But, unbeknownst, I did not realize that he was living in his own private hell.”

The grooming started with special privileges after the nightly 10 o’clock prayers, when the other boys went to bed, Schippers recalled. Once a week, Haas would take him swimming, and then to the canteen for candy.

“I thought it was a treat — to get to stay up later than everybody else,” Schippers said.

Over the months, the friar's behavior escalated, according to Schippers.

“He would get behind me, and then he would put his arms around me, and then we would float around in the swimming pool,” Schippers said. That turned into showers and penetrative rape, he said.

Schippers felt shame and confusion common to some survivors. He searched for guidance, hinted about what had happened to his brothers, but they never caught on. There were rumors about Julian Haas around the school, too. Students called him Father Jewels, a reference to his alleged interest in boys’ genitals.

“I was 14 years old, and sexually was kind of at a loss at that time,” Schippers said. “I remember everything vividly, but it is somewhat distant.”

An image from a Thomas More Prep yearbook, as provided by Margaret Allen of The Hays Daily News.

The Capuchins’ investigation uncovered at least seven credible allegations against Haas from 1973, 1974, 1977, 1978 and 1979. None of them were reported until 2002 or later. (The area’s district attorney provided those dates and figures. The province would only confirm that at least one credible accusation was made.)

Haas wasn’t the only alleged predator at Thomas More Prep, either. The report named seven other “credibly accused” friars that passed through TMP in the 1970s, according to reporting by Margaret Allen of The Hays Daily News.

Later, Haas and many of the same priests served at posts in Colorado. The Capuchin's regional province also includes Kansas and Texas.

And, unlike for many other Catholic organizations, most of the accused are still alive.

“You had a lot of clergy living there and teaching there, a lot of students living there,” said Tom Drees, a TMP alum and the current district attorney for the surrounding county. “They all lived together in the building. Separate quarters, of course.”

For Schippers, the assaults ended when he confronted the priest just before his first Christmas break, he said. “I just knew something wasn't right. And, so I did put a stop to it. Finally,” he said.

Decades Of Denial

Later in Schippers’ high school career, an athletics coach praised his work ethic and told his parents: “He practices, even after practice. He’s out there after the other boys have left.” 

His sister now suspects that Shug was trying to vanquish his memories. The teenage boy was just trying to forget it all.

Still, in a pattern common among abuse victims, the young man excelled in his younger years. People told Jacque Schippers she was lucky to date him as they both started college.

“He knew how to make everybody feel happy. He always was, it seemed like, very genuine and just full of life,” his ex-wife said.

An injury ended Schippers’ dreams of Division 1 basketball, but within a few years of graduation, he managed a grain elevator and a fertilizer dealership in their hometown.

“There's an awful lot of people who outwardly look very successful, look like things are just fine — and they don't sleep at night or they are hyper-vigilant or they haven't had a relationship in 30 years,” said Ann Hagan Webb, a psychologist, abuse survivor and advocate.

The average age to come forward about abuse is 52, she said.

For Schippers, the problems mounted over many years. His drinking began to take a toll. He would disappear, his ex-wife said. At their parents’ 50th anniversary party, where sister Pat Wilcox had asked him to speak, his words ran together and his sentences fell apart.

“He was never a mean drunk, but he would just drink himself into oblivion,” Wilcox said.

And sometimes the alcohol helped him talk.

Jacque Schippers and Terry "Shug" Schippers, courtesy Jacque Schippers.

Starting in the early 2000s, Schippers would sometimes allude to a religious figure and a swimming pool. But he would never acknowledge it the next day. And while he stayed close with high-school friends, he always refused to return for reunions.

He and Jacque split up for the last time in 2014 after Shug drove home with a beer, despite the alcohol-detecting lock on his vehicle’s ignition, she said.

“He loved his family — he couldn’t quit. Even at the price of losing your family,” Jacque Schippers said. 

From that point, Schippers’ downward slide accelerated. The halfway houses and other programs didn’t take. He lost jobs. He was on the edge of homelessness.

Finally, Jacque Schippers suggested that he go to Greeley, Colorado.

"Your sister will help you," she said.

Religious Orders Are A Special Case

Pat Wilcox did help her brother. That conversation in her basement was the first time Shug Schippers ever explicitly acknowledged his allegations of abuse.

Afterward, she hoped things would change. She already knew she wanted him to get therapy, and he was open to it. But she was surprised that he agreed to her next request — one that some of their siblings worried would lead "the sheep to the wolf’s den,” she recalled. 

With her brother’s permission, she told her parish priest and eventually contacted the Capuchin order’s regional headquarters in Denver’s Highland neighborhood

Schippers came forward just as the church and the state were trying once more to deal with the legacy of clerical abuse. The Capuchin province published the review of its files in 2019, naming Haas and 12 others as “credibly accused.” The report reviewed 226 personnel files for people who had served in the province since it was established in 1977.

At least seven of the accused worked at Thomas More Prep, according to a review of yearbooks by The Hays Daily News. Eight also worked in Denver, though they likely had more contact with children at the Kansas school.

Later in 2019, the Catholic Church and the state of Colorado finished a much bigger project. Under an agreement between attorney general Phil Weiser and the Colorado dioceses, an independent team named 43 priests with at least 160 victims. At the same time, the Colorado dioceses agreed to pay reparations through an independent program.

As of mid-December, the statewide reparations program had paid an average of about $8,000 to six people.

But that program excludes religious order cases — including Schippers' — because they're not under the direct supervision of Colorado’s highest Catholic leaders, including Archbishop Samuel Aquila.

That decision means that Schippers and others like him have relatively little hope of payment from the church. It's a distinction that makes Jacque Schippers furious.

“This situation, this priest, I mean, he ruined my family. He ruined that man,” said Jacque Schippers. “And the Catholic church, they want to just sweep this under the rug.”

She wants to see a universal response from the Catholic Church, one that isn't decided by state lines or dioceses borders.

A religious order — such as the Capuchins — is a religious community within the Catholic Church. The order’s Mid-America province is one of more than 20 male religious orders within the Denver archdiocese alone.

These orders are still part of the global church under the pope and local Catholic leaders do have some power over them too. Aquila could strip an order’s right to operate within his district, but, so far, he hasn’t publicly pressured the Capuchins to offer reparations for people like Schippers.

“You are certainly free to analyze the differences in how different dioceses and/or religious orders are responding to this issue, but collectively, I will argue the efforts, standards and commitment to action taken by the Catholic Church as a whole and under the Dallas Charter are above and beyond what any other institution is doing,” wrote representative Mark Haas — no relation to Julian Haas — in an email to Colorado Public Radio.

The Capuchin order declined to say whether it has paid financial settlements to any of its friars’ reported victims, saying that was confidential.

Asked whether the Capuchin province would offer a formal reparations program, a representative said it “would continue to offer assistance as it is appropriate based on the facts of each reported case.”

When Shug Came Forward

While the Capuchins haven’t set up a reparations fund, they have responded to allegations of abuse. Shortly after he reached out, Schippers met someone who embodies how much the church response to the sexual assault crisis has changed. 

Jason Faris has been the province’s “safe environment coordinator” since 2015. 

Hundreds of Catholic organizations and others have created similar positions since the early 2000s, when widespread allegations of clerical abuse became public in the U.S. Faris is responsible for ensuring the region’s Capuchins are following standards to prevent sexual assault and to aid victims.

A convert to Catholicism and a survivor of clerical abuse himself, Faris testified at the trial of Timothy Evans, one of the only Catholic priests to go to prison in Colorado. Faris, who also works as a county corrections officer, deals with a steady stream of reports by email, phone and referral. 

“Some victims come to us very angry, understandably so. Some come to us just wanting to feel that the church takes their allegations seriously,” he said.

Faris spoke with Schippers for hours. Ultimately, the order offered to pay for therapy at a counselor of Schippers’ choosing. But the older man only went to eight sessions before he quit.

“It kept bringing up old memories that I'm trying to forget and I just really didn't think it was helping much, so I just put a stop to it,” Schippers said.

During this time, Schippers also learned that the man he accused resides in southern Colorado on a rural friary owned by the order. Haas, who’s now in his 80s, lives under voluntary house arrest, as do five other accused Capuchins.

The order offered them a deal: If the priests abide by a “safety plan,” they can live with the order’s support. That generally includes internet restrictions, travel restrictions and supervision to ensure they don’t have contact with minors.

Capuchin priests take vows of poverty, “so they don't have financial resources to just leave the order and find housing, find a job. They'd given their entire lives, including their financial stability to the province,” Faris said.

And the accused generally are beyond the reach of law enforcement. Neither Colorado nor Kansas law generally allows the prosecution of sexual crimes from the 1970s. Both states have since changed their laws, allowing certain sexual acts to be prosecuted indefinitely in the future — but that generally isn’t retroactive to older cases. 

“Most of them were brand new allegations that we had never heard of. They had never been reported to law enforcement in our area,” said Tom Drees, the district attorney whose jurisdiction includes Thomas More Prep.

Drees, who also is an alumnus of Thomas More Prep, successfully prosecuted a case for a younger survivor abused at the school by Fr. Ron Gilardi in the 1990s. But it’s very difficult for older survivors, he said, and few of the people who reported abuse to the Capuchins have come forward to law enforcement.

Haas did not respond to email and phone messages seeking comment for this story.

An image from a Thomas More Prep yearbook, as provided by Margaret Allen of The Hays Daily News.

Aftermath Of Abuse

As she learned what her brother had been through, Schippers’ sister Pat thought about beating Julian Haas with a baseball bat — to make him suffer, but not to kill him, she said. “And I know that's wrong. I know in my heart that that is not right.”

She’s thought, too, about pushing her brother to hire a lawyer and seek a financial settlement. Schippers isn’t sold on that idea yet.

“I just don’t know if I want to engage in it,” he said. It doesn’t seem to be worth the pain of reopening old wounds, he said. 

In fact, Pat suspects that she and the other siblings are angrier than Shug. That’s not uncommon, according to Hagan Webb, the psychologist. It’s a constant challenge for abuse survivors to wrestle with the past, she said.

“More often than not, when you tell someone who cares about you, they feel the anger that you can't seem to conjure up for your perpetrator,” the psychologist said. “You're too busy being angry at yourself for participating when, of course, as a child, you're not really participating.”

Since he came forward, Schippers has felt the hints of change, and he has told his ex-wife and his kids about those haunting nights of his freshman year. He’s moved out of his sister’s house to a studio in Greeley, but a back injury has held him back from work.

The pain may never disappear, according to Hagan Webb. But her clients learn to recognize and react to the symptoms.

“Before you deal with it, you feel kind of two-dimensional. Like you’re walking around with a mask on,” she explained. Afterward, they start to feel more whole.

Still, Shug Schippers struggles to make sense of it all.

“Why he did it, I guess is kinda the question I have,” he said. “I kind of know now, but — to do what he did, it just wasn't right.”

Meanwhile, Jacque Schippers lives with friends in a Kansas City suburb. She’s found peace for herself, yet wonders what could have been.

“We would be together. We would be together. And we would be doing our dreams that we had,” she said. “I’m blessed. But if I could have my dreams, he and I would be together. I would be with him. That’s where I would be.”

That’s not possible anymore, she said. Instead, she hopes for the best as her family navigates this new life — a life after abuse.